Q REPORTS (Havana) “Lies”, “manipulation”, “subversion”: Raúl Castro, who handed over the reins of the Communist Party of Cuba this Monday, does not mince words to talk about the Internet, which has become the opposition’s favorite weapon.
The country of 11.2 million people was long one of the least connected in the world.
Everything changed with the arrival of the mobile Internet. At the end of 2018 people adopted it in a dizzying way, despite its high price, with 4.2 million people connected. By the end of 2019, that number had reached 7.1 million (63% of the population).
According to the Ministerio de Comunicaciones (Mincom), as of November 2020, 4.2 million users accessed the internet via a mobile device, of which 1.3 million had access to 4G LTE technology.
President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, successor to Raúl Castro as the head of the communist party, boasted encouraging “the computerization of society,” but was quickly disillusioned by an unprecedented social concern, now visible from the outside.
On Monday, while 300 party delegates were meeting at a congress in Havana, a video was viralized on social media showing the arrest Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, a dissident artist in a depressed area of the capital.
Dozens of activists, independent journalists, and artists denounced, through Twitter, that the Police prevented them from leaving their homes, a technique generally used by Cuban authorities to prevent them from gathering.
Others said, through the network accounts of their family or friends, that they were deprived of the Internet.
November, key moment
Ted Henken, an American sociologist and author of the next book, The Cuban Digital Revolution, believes that “there is a struggle in Cuba over who will have control of digital technologies and we don’t know how it will end.”
“After the arrival of 3G, mobilizations both online and on the street increased and became more frequent. After November we saw that they had more and more impact, which provoked a very strong response from the government,” he adds.
November 2020 marked a before and after.
For ten days, the Movimiento San Isidro, led by Alcántara, took refuge in a house to demand the release of a rapper, filming himself through Facebook and even seen outside the country.
After their eviction, some 300 artists demonstrated on November 27 in front of the Ministry of Culture, spreading messages through social networks, to demand more freedom of expression, something never seen before in Cuba.
For Raúl Castro, behind these protests hides the same old enemy: Washington.
“Let’s not forget that the United States government created the ‘Internet Working Group for Cuba’, (founded in 2018 by the State Department) that aspires to make social networks become channels of subversion,” he said.
“However, the truth is different, the internal counterrevolution, which lacks a social base, leadership and mobilization capacity, continues to decrease in the number of its members and the number of actions with social impact, concentrating its activism on social networks and the Internet,” he added.
‘Be on the offensive’
Present at the congress, the octogenarian poet Miguel Barnet headed in the same direction: “Make no mistake about the enemy (…), here the revolution is not in social networks, it is in the streets.”
However, as a precaution, the party adopted a resolution to strengthen “revolutionary activism on social media.” It is necessary to “be on the offensive,” remarked on Saturday the head of the ideological department, Victor Gaute, who was replaced during the congress.
Days before the congress, the Council of State approved a new decree to regulate telecommunications aimed at “defending the successes of the socialist state”, the details of which are not yet known.
On several occasions in recent months, Twitter suspended accounts of Cuban media and official organizations, as well as common activists, for violating its rules on “manipulation”.
For former diplomat Carlos Alzugaray, the government’s use of the Internet as “an instrument of propaganda” is not the most judicious.
According to Alzugaray, the accounts of the Cuban ministers are “a repetition of what the president says.”
Above all because not only dissent surf the Internet: animal defenders, activists for homosexual rights or young Cubans tired of the queues in front of stores also express themselves on social networks without asking for a change in the political system.
Michael Bustamante, professor at Florida International University, criticizes this “binary” approach of the government because what is happening on social networks is also a reflection of a reality: “Talk to anyone on the streets of Cuba today, and they will tell you that frustration and pessimism are widespread,” he tweeted.